We've seen marginalized America before. We've had the chance to appreciate its nuances and its sharp contrasts, the poor yet soulful black communities and the star-spangled-banner-wearing white ones, with their drinking habits and skating rebel kids. We've seen the cool and the creepy, often guided by the glamorizing and at times surreal gaze of the Larry Clarks and Harmony Korines. Muzi Quawson's is a different type of look. For an outsider, the British artist and photographer achieves a surprising level of intimacy, unveiling a less boisterous reality than her American colleagues, an everyday that doesn't have to venture into cat-killing, chair-beating or drug-taking (to mention some of the most memorable moments of Gummo).
The artist's third solo show at Annet Gelink showcases a visual report of her months in City of Valley, USA, a community on the border of Georgia and Alabama. Apart from the single photo of Cody, a skater kid Quawson has been following around among other local characters, the exhibition consists only of a three-channel video installation faced by a convenient bench.
Muzi Quawson, still from Shawmut Circle, 2011, 3 channel video installation; Courtesy of the artist and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.
Across the three projections, which split our perspective in both a narrative and spatial refraction, the artist portrays her heterogeneous subjects as they go on with their lives, catching glimpses of people and scenery alike and building a choral – and a little cubist -- portrait of the American town.
A couple of skaters, one of whom seems visibly uncomfortable because of the camera, chit chat regardless of one's elbow dripping blood after a fall; a couple – a blondie with a summer dress and her nerdy yet fedora-equipped partner – make out in a car at a gas station; a group of African-Americans play dominos while smoking cigarettes in a garden, with a few dollars on the table to spice the game up. We see the same things from different angles, as if we were ourselves multiplied and scattered in different spots around the same location, but we also see separate events take place at once, a collective routine that is impossible to grasp at a glance.
Muzi Quawson, installation view, Shawmut Circle, 2011; Courtesy of the artist and Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam.
After all these non-climactic moments, the dramatic highlight is probably the fat and shirtless white man singing a repetitive litany to the clap of his own hands, ending with an embarrassed smirk to the camera. The lack of a complete faith in the shooting eye is in fact, perhaps, one of the most human traits of Quawson's work: the respectful distance that marks the difference between depiction and spectacle.
(Image on top: Muzi Quawson, At the Skatepark, 2001, color photograph, 76 x 101 cm; Courtesy of the Artist and Annet Gelink Gallery)